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Data Viz News [10]

The top news, articles and resources from throughout the Internet

June 8, 2013

We all thought that, this week, the ‘buzz’ around data visualization would be mostly dedicated to the Eyeo Festival – one of the most important events in the field, taking place in Minneapolis. The great talks, a lot of interesting folks commenting on Twitter (search for #eyeo and #eyeo2013), and even a bit of tension after Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s accident on stage, followed by his epic return the day after to finish his presentation.

But when the word ‘PRISM’ and ‘NSA’ began to pop-up repeatedly in our social networks’ timelines, last Thursday, it was obvious something much bigger was going on. A scandal that will surely take sometime to fully understand and investigate, but that is already shacking the foundations of some of the most powerful tech companies in the world – not to mention the U.S. Government.

According to The Washington Post, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence for the Obama administration, confirmed that ‘PRISM’ had been approved by a judge and is being conducted in accordance with U.S. law. The scandal was first revealed by The Guardian, and immediately followed by all major publications. Journalist and longtime blogger Glenn Greenwald broke the story, first revealing that Verizon has given the U.S. National Security Agency information on all its telephone calls for months, and the next day publishing the shocking tale of the full extension and complexity of the PRISM program.

This is far from being an isolated case in the history of the NSA, but there’s no telling how deep will it go and what the consequences will be. The folks from the Electronic Frontier Foundation published an interactive timeline on that, going back to 1791, when the Bill of Rights went to effect in the U.S.

On a side note, the horrible Powerpoint slides featured as part of the top-secret documents were, of course, promptly targeted by the likes of Edward Tufte and others. We present one of those slide below, together with all the other recommended links of the week:



Latest product launches and business announcements, career moves, data visualization competitions and general news.

The American National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian. The program facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information.

Documents describing the previously undisclosed program, obtained by The Washington Post, show the breadth of U.S. electronic surveillance capabilities in the wake of a widely publicized controversy over warrantless wiretapping of U.S. domestic telephone communications in 2005. These slides, annotated by The Washington Post, represent a selection from the overall document, and certain portions are redacted.

Partial screen capture of the Prism slides
(image: Prism slides | The Washington Post)

Big news from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR). The George W. Donaghey Emerging Analytics Center (EAC) will be headed by Dr. Mary Good. It will be located on the fourth floor of UALR’s Engineering and Information Technology building, featuring data visualization systems that are among the first of their kind in the world. The (2-hour long) video below provides some details about the project:

Amazon Studios just released Storyteller, a tool that allows writers and filmmakers to quickly, easily — and cheaply — storyboard their scripts. John Koetsier, from Venture Beat, writes about this new service and why is Amazon creating a storyboarding tool.

The Google Maps Engine API lets developers import their own data into the Maps Engine so they’re able to use it for their own applications, essentially letting developers have their own Google Maps to use when they want.

A new plan to boost Scotland’s participation in the “big data” revolution was launched last week with an application to the Scottish Funding Council for £30 million for three data science innovation centres based at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen Robert Gordon universities.

For the past few months, Pete Smart and Rob Hawkes have been working on ViziCities, a 3D city and data visualisation platform — the project is about bringing cities to life using the power of open data and the Web. Find out more about the recent developments in this post (includes several videos like the one below).



A selection of recent articles published by experts in data visualization, cartography, business analytics and visual journalism, among other topics.

Andy Kirk writes about the importance of keeping in mind the purpose of any particular visualization project, before criticizing or promoting it. He mentions a couple of projects to illustrate his own personal experience as a ‘data visualization consumer’.

Interesting post by Michelle Bidwell, proving that you can still ensure transparency and truth while providing ‘pop and sound-bites’, so typical in today’s ‘infographics’.

At the end of the day it comes down to how well you know your data and how thorough the analysis is. At the bare minimum you need to ensure you have a sense of the shape/distribution, the variability, the total counts across key groups, the relativity of changes, proportion of missing values, and what sort of outliers you have.


After doing many Tableau presentations to managers and analysts over the past couple of years, Kelly Martin tell us what are the top three concerns that keep cropping up.

Gianluca Fiorelli looks at the Universe and our Solar System as a metaphor for how the Internet works, and why understanding (and visualizing) that universe is so important for Digital Marketing professionals.

Gravity, relativity, and quantum theories are some of the laws that govern the universe we know. Physical and mathematical laws that translate into formulas and algorithms, as well as algorithms and graphs, are what govern the Google universe.


A selection by Rob Wile, featuring charts about the evolution in time of topics like armed conflicts, authoritarianism, slave labor and many more. The Washington Post posted a follow-up to this post, with their not-so-optimistic view on the same charts.

Immediately after The Guardian published the articles about the ‘NSA/Verizon/PRISM’ scandal (mentioned above), many bloggers and journalists all around the world wrote their opinion on the matter. In this post, PopSci’s Kelsey D. Atherton shares his thoughts on what the NSA’s really using all the information that has been collecting.

If there is a specific terrorist the NSA is trying to find, plotting the location of every single person by their phone records is the functional equivalent of combining a dozen haystacks into one great big pile with the hope of finding the one needle. More likely is that this is a collection boon for general big data projects.

Another visual selection from the Business Insider, this time written by Walter Hickey. The set of maps published originally by Joshua Katz (a Ph. D student in statistics at North Carolina State University show why regional accents are such a major part of what makes American English so interesting as a dialect.

US Dialect map
(image: Joshua Katz, NC State University)



Recent articles related to the wide range of data visualization applications for business analytics, as well as content surrounding the “Big Data” buzz.

A round-up of insightful, deep, humorous and overall meaningful quotes about the role of data – visualized or not – in our lives, from both real life and fictional characters – like Gordon Gekko or Sherlock Holmes!

Tim Berners-Lee called the semantic web in 1998 already “a web of data, in some ways like a global database”, and in this article Mark van Rijmenam makes a case for the catalyst effect Big Data could have to move forward towards that ‘Web 3.0′.

Vincent Granville introduces the “DBTA 100,” a list of the companies that matter most in data. DBTA decided to focus strictly on companies that provide a product or service related to data management, and the full list is available here.

An inside look at the work being done by Court Corley, a data scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Corley created a digital system capable of analyzing billions of tweets and other social media messages in just seconds, in an effort to discover patterns and make sense of all the information.

In this article, Caitlin Garrett, a Statistical Analyst at Rapid Insight, alerts to some of the most common mistakes being done during the predictive modeling process.

In one of his latest written contributions for Forbes, Gil Press gives an overview of the current debate around the role of the Data Scientist, a discussion that has a number of different points of views and interpretations.

Based on the work being developed by Neuroscientist Dr. Mark Beeman and his team at Northwestern University, Marketing professional Erica Driver talks about how insight works.

Doug Henschen, executive editor at Information Week, anticipates one of the Big Data and Analytics hot topics at the E2 Conference, next week.

Fred Trotter‘s new article, in which he defends the creation of a community of healthcare graph researchers, providing them with non-aggregate data to create the algorithms that will dictate how medicine operates for the next century.

To achieve the the triple aim in healthcare (better, cheaper, and safer), we are going to need intensive monitoring and measurement of specific doctors, hospitals, labs and countless other clinical professionals and clinical organizations. We need specific data and specific doctors.

A comprehensive list of startups and young companies that promise to rock the world of Big Data in the new few years, by Kevin McLaughlin.



Insights from well-known names in the data visualization field, published during last week.

In this interview, Eric Rodenbeck describes how his team at Stamen Design approaches its work creating maps from publicly available NASA data, among many projects.

Published in the Russian version of the Ria Novosti website (Google Translate link), this interview with one of the most respected infographic designers in the world is, simply putted, a must-read.

The most recent episode of the top data visualization-related podcast. This time, Enrico and Moritz have a nice chat with Bryan Connor (The Why Axis) and Mahir Yavuz (Seed Scientific) about plagiarism.

One more short interview from the folks at iCharts, and with one of our favorite data visualization ‘wizars’, Santiago Ortiz – with which we had also the pleasure of interviewing last year.

Stephanie Buck interviews John Rauser, a data scientist at Pinterest. He shares his thoughts about the day-to-day projects and challenges of data science, and what it means to interpret valuable information for one of the hottest social media companies out there.

Robb Montgomery uploaded to his Soundcloud account a brief (audio) interview with Uldis Leiterts, the co-founder of the Latvian startup Also check out our interview with Uldis, published here a couple of months ago.



Ranging from tutorials and presentations, to lists of tools and practical guidelines for creating effective data visualizations.

A total of 16 keynotes presented last week at the 2013 OpenViz Conference are now available on Bocoup’s YouTube channel. Below you have the playlist with names like Santiago Ortiz, Amanda Cox and Kim Rees sharing precious insights.

Crowdfunding has become a way to support journalism projects from one-off articles to the wholesale launch of new publications, and Laura Shin leaves some tips on how to use it for your project.

Published on Brighttalk as a webcast, this is a fantastic roundtable moderated by Jeffrey Kelly (Big Data Analyst at Wikibon), with the participation of Kim Rees (Head of Information Design, Periscopic), Javier de la Torre, CEO and co-founder of Vizzuality, and Interactive Things‘ Director, Benjamin Wiederkehr. (You need to create a free account on Brighttalk to listen to the 61-minute conversation). Jeffrey also wrote about this roundtable recently, on Silicon Angle.


Partial screen capture of Creating Social Impact through Data Visualization webcast
(image: Creating Social Impact through Data Visualization | Brighttalk)

The online managing editor at Computerworld, Sharon Machlis helps to get started with one of the most popular programming languages for business analytics and statistical analysis.

This tutorial by Abbott Katz – a London-based Excel instructor and freelance writer – uses an excerpt of some pivot-tabled latitudes in Washington DC, gathered for the purposes of pinpointing crimes by lats and longs.

A video tutorial by Doug Finke using the Data Explorer and GeoFlow for Excel. In this example, Doug uses data from the USGS about earthquakes to create a 3D visualization.

A new side project by Erick Lotz, that aims to organize and categorize data visualization books that have been published in the past 15 years.

It’s a great idea, and we’ve been also doing a small experiment on Pearltrees precisely with books. Browse around, and if you use this service, join us to add your own books to the list:

Robert Kosara on why the same data looks very different in a line chart, depending on its aspect ratio, and what is the ‘banking to 45º’ principle introduced in 1998 by Bill Cleveland, Marylyn McGill, and Robert McGill.

An overview by Benoit Wirz of the newly launched Creatavist, a freemium product, that gives journalists the ability to create stories on the web, and easily publish them to e-books and apps.

Posted as a question in the School of Data forum, this thread has some interesting recommendations and links posted by users.

A collection of online infographic tools, some tutorials, guides and articles on infographic creation, as well as free infographic elements and kits, selected by Carol Francis.


An updated view at the Events Calendar we have available here on Visual Loop.

A meeting place to host contemporary creation through an in depth program of conferences, workshops and performances by the most relevant artists of our time. All the details here.

 Partial screen capture of the website OFFF Barcelona 2013
(image: OFFF Barcelona 2013)

The Information Design Seminar is one of the largest gatherings of Hispanic data visualization and visual design professionals. The 2013 edition will at the Teatro Chacao, Caracas, Venezuela and you can check out more about it here.

EuroVis 2013 is the 15th annual Visualization Symposium organized by the Eurographics Working Group on Data Visualization and the IEEE Visualization and Graphics Technical Committee. Visit the event’s website for more info.


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An this week’s Data Viz News come to an end. Thanks to all of you that contributed to this selection, either by sharing interesting links  directly with us or by posting on Twitter, Google+ and other social media channels. Let us know if we missed some interesting resource, and don’t forget to join us on our Facebook Group or, where we share many of the links mentioned above.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.